The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter & CineSport’s Noah Coslov discuss how to approach the 49ers game with Blaine Gabbert starting, the Falcons issues at center & the biggest challenge facing the team.
1. NO-HUDDLE ATTACK: Back in 2008, one of the first things that former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave did was to teach Matt Ryan how to operate the no-huddle attack. (Congrats to Coach Mularkey on being named the interim in the Music City and to Musgrave, Oakland's offensive coordinator, who's working some more magic with young QB Derek Carr.)
They called the operation "Texas." It originally had 12 plays, but expanded over time to include the entire play book.
The Falcons have struggled in the red zone after a torrid start this season.
Ryan was diplomatic when discussing the new offense, his ability to audible out of bad plays and not operating out of the no-huddle on his weekly radio show on 680 The Fan with Brian Finneran, Steak Shapiro and the lovely Sandra Golden.
“Obviously, we are different than we were in the past," Ryan said. "We were a lot more no-huddle kind of the last three or four years with Dirk (Koetter) and really at the end with Mike Mularkey. We were doing a lot of things at the line of scrimmage.
"We are a little bit different from that now. But we definitely…we go to the line of scrimmage with multiple plays a lot of the time. We have the ability to get into what we feel like is the best play for that situation. There is still a lot of that. We are doing a lot of that at the line of scrimmage. It’s just different in how we communicate it and how we get it done.”
Ryan likes the run-pass balance.
“There is a far greater emphasis on running the ball," he said. "We’re really on the cusp of being a great offense if we can finish drives and take care of the ball.”
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has not had a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback of Ryan's status before. That may explain why his offenses have struggled in the red zone in Houston, Washington and Cleveland.
In five of his seven years as a coordinator, Shanahan’s units finished in the lower half of the league in red zone percentage with rankings of 26th , 12th, 19th, 29th, fourth, tied for 20th and 24th.
Because of a hot start to the season, the Falcons are currently tied for sixth in red zone touchdown scoring (19 of 30) percentage (63.3 percent). They were 10 of 13 scoring touchdown in the first four games. The Falcons have since slowed down in part because of red-zone turnovers over the past four games.
One way to spruce things up might be to put Ryan in the no-huddle in the red zone and let him attack the defense.
2. THE BOOK OF GABBERT: Blaine Gabbert, who's set to start for the 49ers against the Falcons, has an 0-1 record against the Falcons, who pummeled the Jaguars 41-14 on Dec. 15, 2011. He completed 12 of 22 passes for 141 yards and threw one touchdown pass and one interception. He finished with a passer rating of 70.5 and was sacked five times.
3. DURANT ON THE DEFENSE: Linebacker Justin Durant, who is third on team with 39 tackles, believes the defense can create more turnovers.
“Coach always preaches (about) the ball," Durant said. "We didn’t make enough plays on defense to get the ball out. That’s one of the things that we have to concentrate on.”
He wasn't happy with Tampa Bay's converting on three third-downs during their overtime drive.
“We just have to make a play," Durant said. "We put it on ourselves that somebody is going to make a play. We just didn’t do it.”
4. BROOKS REED UPDATE: Linebacker Brooks Reed, the team's major offseason free agent signee, has just six tackles, but is doing a fine job setting the edge against the run.
He also believes the defense can create more turnovers.
"It’s being in the right position to do it," Reed said. "Gang tackling. Ripping the ball out. Not just having one guy on the ball carrier and having it be a mentality where you are ripping for the ball every time and there is more than one guy on the ball carriers. It’s just something that we have to keep on practicing."
5. FREEMAN UPDATE: Running back Devonta Freeman leads NFL with 1,062 scrimmage yards, 709 rush yards and 10 touchdowns (nine rushing, on receiving). In past six games, his first six starter, he has 956 scrimmage yards (159.3 per game), 666 rushing yards (111 per game) and nine touchdowns (eight rushing, one receiving.)
6. JULIO JONES CORNER: Wide receiver Julio Jones had 12 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown last week. He leads the NFL with 70 catches.
Over his past 12 games, Jones has 102 catches for 1,505 yards (125.4 per game) and eight touchdowns.
In his only game against San Francisco, the 2012 NFC championship game, Jones had 11 catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns.
7. STADIUM FLOW: You've got to take a look at this story by our Asif Lakhani on the Mercedes-Benz Stadiums around the world.
8. PLAY 60 CHARACTER CAMP: Here are some photos from the Play 60 event on Tuesday. Former Falcons running back Jerious Norwood was on hand to help with the drills at the NFL PLAY 60 Character Camp at Gainesville High School.
9. OFFICIAL DEPTH CHART: The team’s depth chart in the weekly release. The Falcons label it as unofficial, but that actually makes it the official depth chart:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 85 Leonard Hankerson, 16 Justin Hardy
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 75 Jake Long
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 62 James Stone
C 68 Mike Person, 66 Gino Gradkowski
RG 65 Chris Chester, 62 James Stone
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 72 Bryce Harris
TE 83 Jacob Tamme, 80 Levine Toilolo, 81 Tony Moeaki
WR 84 Roddy White, 14 Eric Weems, 15 Nick Williams
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 12 Sean Renfree
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 33 Terron Ward
FB 42 Patrick DiMarco
DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 99 Adrian Clayborn, 71 Kroy Biermann
DT 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 97 Grady Jarrett
NT 96 Paul Soliai, 95 Jonathan Babineaux
DE 94 Tyson Jackson, 93 Malliciah Goodman
LB 52 Justin Durant, 59 Joplo Bartu, 51 Philip Wheeler
LB 55 Paul Worrilow, 54 Nate Stupar
LB 50 O’Brien Schofield, 56 Brooks Reed
CB 23 Robert Alford, 32 Jalen Collins
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 20 Phillip Adams, 22 Dezmen Southward
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Robenson Therezie
S 25 Wiliam Moore, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 30 Charles Godfrey
K 3 Matt Bryant
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 14 Eric Weems, 15 Nick Williams
PR 14 Eric Weems, 15 Nick Williams
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher
How did the Falcons get to 6-2?
Here's a look back at the game stories, news and notes from the Falcons' 23-20 overtime loss to Tampa Bay, win over the Titans (10-7), the loss to the Saints (31-21) and their victories over the Redskins (25-19 in OT), Texans (48-21), Cowboys (39-28), Giants (24-20) and Eagles (26-24).
TAMPA BAY GAME COVERAGE -- Bucs 23, Falcons 20 in OT
TENNESSEE GAME COVERAGE -- Falcons 10, Titans 7
NEW ORLEANS GAME COVERAGE -- Saints 31, Falcons 21
WASHINGTON GAME COVERAGE -- Falcons 25, Redskins 19 in OT
TEXANS GAME COVERAGE -- Falcons 48, Texans 21
COWBOYS GAME COVERAGE -- Falcons 39, Cowboys 28
GIANTS GAME COVERAGE -- Falcons 24, Giants 20
EAGLES GAME COVERAGE -- FALCONS 26, EAGLES 24